The obvious thing that strikes me when I go out for a ride is the amount of money Tucson has invested in its bicycle infrastructure. Tucson has massive bike lanes that run adjacent to Tucson's generally massive car lanes. The generous bike lane makes riding on even the busiest roads somewhat comfortable.
But most of these bike lanes were not remotely on the radar of city pooh-bahs when the City of Tucson was zoned and settled. So, the initial, albeit late, investment in bicycle infrastructure must have been fairly expensive, and somewhat painful.
The image below more or less typifies the bike lanes on major streets in the northern part of Tucson.
*Note: Photo below courtesy of Bruce's Bike Blog.
Sticker shock, notwithstanding, investing in bicycle infrastructure actually makes a lot of sense for urban areas. One practical, and cost-effective solution is to put some of the bloated four-lane roads on a "road diet" by converting them to two-lane roads with a center turn lane, and adding bike lanes on either side. This video explains the process in more detail. For cities in dire financial straits (viz., most cities), the idea is worth considering.
The second thing that strikes me about cycling is the notion of connectivity in urban planning. As you can see in the bike map below (full map available here), Tucson has done a phenomenal job of connecting the city from the east to the west. On the map, Green lanes are specially designated bike routes, or bikes only paths, while pink routes are streets with a shoulder of the road doubling as a bike lane.
Unfortunately, Tucson's connectivity is more or less limited by its east/west orientation. If you look at the map again, you will find very few green routes that run north/south past the Rillito River. If you live in the northern part of the city, there are precious few good options for making the trek southward.
I've managed to mitigate this by bumping along neighborhood routes until I hit the bike paths near the Rillito Race Track Park, but the difference in bicycle infrastructure between the north and south parts of the city are astonishing. As Tucson seeks to grow its bike-riding base, an obvious way to do this is to expand the number of bike routes, and paths running between the northern and southern parts of the city.
One final thing that strikes me about cycling is the demographic subset of people it attracts. Most of the people I pass on my rides around town are either students, avid cyclists, or people from extremely low income brackets. There is relatively little variation day to day.
Outside of lower income riders, those who bike are almost uniformly caucasian, and mostly male.
This makes for an interesting motley of people using Tucson's bike infrastructure, and leaves out an entire demographic of middle-class riders, and women that the city, presumably, wants to attract to riding. Last week, for example, I was riding along the Rillito bike path, and I came up behind a lycra-clad cyclist sporting an expensive Fuji road bike. He dutifully padded along behind a homeless guy on a Mongoose special from Walmart - all while I pedaled behind both of them en route to the school. It was a odd clash of cultures, in a democratizing sort of way. For various reasons, we were simply all enjoying a morning ride.
I think a part of the demographic disparity among riders may be accounted for in my discussion of connectivity above. A better connected system makes for a more used system, and Tucson hasn't made biking a feasible reality for people living in entire pockets of the city, many of whom would fall into the middle and upper middle classes. But really this is only a part of the explanation.
It may also be that there's simply a perception among segments of the population that bike riding is just for recreation, or merely a form of transportation to take if there isn't another one available. Assuming this view is true of a bulk of the city's population, the lot has to fall on cycling advocates and city governments to promote alternative transportation and 'mainstream' it into the transportation system itself.
Interestingly, the Danes have managed to do this quite well in their largest, and capital city Copenhagen. The video below dubs Copenhagen the "City of Cyclists" and from the looks of it, they may well be right. Scores of people, from all walks of life, appear in the clip, using the city's bike infrastructure. Not only is the city well connected, but it has also somehow managed to capture the city's cycling imagination.
I'm not sure that Tucson will ever be like Copehagen (that's probably a good thing), but there are certainly opportunities for the city to make itself more bicycle friendly. It's been a interesting first week of riding.